Does football really care about stamping out racism?

This week saw the football world unite in condemning the actions of a Villarreal ‘fan’, who tossed a banana at Dani Alves, and throwing their support behind the Barcelona player who picked up the banana and proceeded to eat it.

#SayNoToRacism was quickly seen trending on Twitter with many of the world’s most famous footballers producing selfies showing themselves eating a banana.

The fan was found within 12 hours and issued with a ban for life by Villarreal, an action that is impossible to disagree with. The club released a statement saying,

“Villarreal CF wants to communicate that the club deeply regrets and condemns the incident that happened yesterday during the match against FC Barcelona in which a fan threw an object onto the field of El Madrigal.

“Thanks to the security forces and the invaluable assistance of the Yellow crowd, the club has already identified the person and has decided to withdraw his season tickets, permanently banning his access to El Madrigal stadium.

“Once again our club would like to express its firm commitment to promoting respect, equality, sportsmanship and fair play both on and off the field and our absolute rejection of any act that is contrary to these principles, such as violence, discrimination, racism and xenophobia.”

On the same day Luis Suarez completed his redemption and won the English PFA Player of the Year. The same Luis Suarez who was found to have racially abused Patrice Evra “at least ten times”, when Liverpool player Manchester United in 2011. Suarez has yet to publically apologise to Evra, but today posted a photo of eating a banana on to various social media platforms. Hypocrite?

Only last month John Terry had to refute the claim that he would be making a return for England, despite what exactly many have been calling for. This is a man who was found guilty by an FA panel of insulting Anton Ferdinand using racist language in 2012 and is yet to publically apologise to Ferdinand for his actions.

So what does this tell us about football? If you’re a season ticket holder who pays several hundred Euros a year to the club and you use racist language or exhibit racist behavior you will be banned for life, and rightly so. However, if you’re the clubs’s star player, worth millions of pounds and team wouldn’t be challenging for honours without your presence you can expect a robust and public defence from the club and forgiveness from the football establishment. Both Terry and Suarez have gone on to captain their clubs since their incidents.

Club’s behaviour directly translates to the stands as well with certain fans of Liverpool and Chelsea routinely booing Evra, Anton Ferdinand, and even Rio Ferdinand, in each match they’ve played against Chelsea and Liverpool respectively.

Football continues to say that it takes a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to discrimination of all kinds but this only ever seems to apply to the invisible individual rather than the high profile star.

How can the sport be expected to rid itself of its darker side with these too common inconsistencies? By criticising those fans that make monkey gestures but celebrating the achievements of players such as Suarez and Terry are we complicit in continuing to allow discrimination to have a role in our national sport?

Update: 30th April 2014

Sepp Blatter has tweeted saying he supports the decision of the NBA to give a life ban to LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling over his racist comments. Will life bans be used in football from now on when is comes to discrimination?

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